Wednesday, August 10

Greetings from the Old Joliet Prison

Who doesn't love this old movie: "The Blues Brothers"? The brothers are featured on a faux gasoline pump on the Joliet prison grounds. "Prison Break" and "Let's Go To Prison" were also shot here--neither of which I've seen. This is a mammoth structure that opened in 1858 and closed its doors in 2002. A woman's facility stood across the street. Almost always operating above capacity, one of its most famous revolts occurred in 1973 when inmates rebelled against what they felt was unfair removal of other prisoners to other facilities. These transfers were designed to break up the control some prisoners had over others and to eliminate the rampant gang activity at Joliet.

The great thing about riding to Joliet is that parts of it fall along Route 66 and the town has done a nice job of capitalizing on that. Stop at the Joliet visitor's center--a very cool place to hang out (and when I find the picture I have of it, I'll post it here).

The Old Joliet Prison

Jesse Owens and I took a jaunt to the Joliet Prison. Short ride but long on fun and learning about this once notorious hole.

Sunday, July 31

A return of sorts...

I've missed this space and the people who used to regularly visit. I won't bore readers with all the details but I'm riding--not as much as I'd like, but I'm riding and it feels almost like having a piece of my late grandmother's homemade carrot cake with the cream cheese icing--a full body pleasure sensation that I've never been able to fully reproduce anywhere else. Riding again has come close. I've had more than my share of health issues and having never been a person with health problems this has been humbling to say the least.

Permit me to send major thanks all of those who have sent me emails or visited my flickr site to make comments and inquire. I so appreciate your thoughtfulness and kind words. Thanks too all those who used to visit this space and simply wondered about my absence. I'm touched by it all. I apologize for not visiting your sites. I just couldn't bear all the motorcycle chatter and photos of trips. It felt like slow torture. Hearing the roar of a motorcycle on the street was more than enough reminder of my clipped wings. Turning off and tuning out was difficult but necessary. It allowed me to avoid dwelling on the negative--what I couldn't do and concentrate on getting well. Please accept my apologies for being MIA. I did think of you all.

July 7th marked one year since I resigned from a job that was killing me. Literally. And, things have improved considerably since then. I've joined the ranks of those with an auto immune disease, which I'm convince may have been 1) triggered after my brother was killed (written about on previous blog entries); and, 2) exacerbated by a stressful job, which I don't miss at all. OK, well, I miss the income--it was a well paying position. Still, zero regrets about leaving. Mysterious aches have disappeared, once persistent hives now rarely surface, and a debilitating fatigue that often left me bedridden for most of the day, all gone. Mostly. I can walk for miles now when before I needed a nap after walking to the bathroom.

Since spring, I've been riding on and off with saddle time improving all the time. The itch--and thank goodness it's not from hives--to ride and renewed energy to do so, has returned.

It's amazing that I used to go to Indianapolis for lunch and turn around and head home, or zip down to the St. Louis, MO area and back the same day. A 600 miles day ride was nothing and a 1500 miles weekend was more typical than not. It's all relative, isn't it? Now, a 20 miles ride feels just as sweet as those iron-buttish rides of yore! Now, I ride by feel. If I feel like going longer or shorter, that's what I do. This disposition seems to have helped build the ride muscle gradually--sort of like experiencing my own break-in period. I remember early spring throwing my leg over the bike and having to sit there to rest before turning the key. That ride was all of about two miles. Two glorious miles!

Riding now, however, is almost mindless. That is, I'm comfortable on the bike and I ride as often as I can. And, when I do, I more often feel "one" with the bike--you know what I mean?

Chippewa Falls, WI. I took my first multi-day trip recently; actually, it was a last minute trip to Chippewa Falls, WI., to catch the last day of the BMW RA rally. The rally was a bust, but it was fun to be on the road. I left with no plans. After talking to my pal, Chris, at Everyday Riding, I decided to chuck my tentative plans to go to Prairie du Chien, WI and headed to Chippewa Falls. I'm learning that when I feel like my old self, it's time to take to the road. One possible perk of going Chippewa Falls was meeting up with Chris given that Chippewa Falls is only about 100 miles east of Minneapolis. It didn't happen but not for lack of trying. And, I would have enjoyed the company.

I've enjoyed many day-rides of varying lengths. I've had a few short jaunts with Dave (spouse). A recent trip to the Nachusa Grasslands in Franklin Grove, IL was nice. I selected the destination and had every intention of going alone but having company wasn't too bad. It's the negotiating around riding that always hangs me. It takes time to figure out where to eat, when to stop for a nature call, how long and what route. Exhausting to put it mildly. You know, so much of life--at least mine--holds enough mandatory negotiating to last a lifetime. Even before getting ill, I rode solo. You all know that. It was my way to reconnect with self, nature and just be on my own. That has not changed. In fact, I need to be out there on my own more than ever. Because my ability and time to go often and far has changed. Thus, when all systems are ready to go, I'm going.

I now know like never before that riding is a fun-filled stress-buster for me. Every concern, big or small, personal or political melt away when the wheels start rolling. My mind is as close to being blank as possible. My focus is on riding; my energies go there and after a while when I reach an open space, I can feel myself shift into automatic pilot and feel as if I'm floating, sailing, flying effortlessly and all worries are left behind, put somewhere high on a hard to reach shelf. This state that I sometimes reach when I'm easy-riding has resulted in nearly running out of gas more than once. That old feeling of getting on the bike and just riding, riding for long stretches is reactivating the dormant, exercise-deficient muscle memory needed to ride well.

Accepting that tomorrow I may not feel up to riding has been humbling indeed. I have a few trips plan but they are written in pencil. I ride when I can ride and lately I've been feeling it more and more. For now. I'm glad to be (sort of) back.

Sunday, August 29

A Healing visit and a ride to boot!

On a recent Saturday, Chris of Everyday Ride and his lovely wife, whom I'll call "V" gifted me with a visit. Chicago was in line of their return trip of following the Great River Road. Chris had heard a lot about how bummed I felt about not being able to ride. I was thrilled that he selected me out of three options for an overnighter in Chicago. Reading some one's words can give you a feel for the person. About a whole two minutes after Chris and V arrived, I felt we'd been pals forever. We have many common interests only one of which is motorcycling. We even have similar eating habits, although Chris is way out there being vegan, while V and I are sensible vegetarians--just kidding Chris.

For folks who had been on the road for 17 days, of sometimes challenging weather, they arrived looking fresh, relaxed and cucumber cool. I was totally impressed with both, especially V, who looked like she had just come off a cruise--totally relaxed. I know that being a pillion can be hard work. Chris said they had worked out the two-up riding issues, or something like that so that during their trip, they came learn each other's riding ways and found what works for them and that's, in part, what makes for an excellent journey. Many many years ago, I was pillion for a very brief time. I figured if it this much fun on the back, I would have a blast if I could get this guy out of my line of vision (just kidding, Dave). Let's just say it's best for everyone that I ride my own.

Chris and V entered my shoebox size apartment, unloaded their gear and we chatted. I admit I talked their ears off. If they had plans to rest before dinner, I squelched that! Conversation was easy and fun; I hope I didn't behave too much like a woman who had been held captive for a year. My husband and daughter were in Portugal at the time. I'd been pretty much alone for days.

Eventually, I let them get to dinner. I declined their generous invitation to join them because I wanted nothing to stand in the way of me tagging along with them the next as they made their way north to Wisconsin. That's right. I was planning to ride with them! I had been resting up for this for a couple of days and I wanted to go the distance. Kenosha bound! Perspective is relative, isn't it? What in the past would have been an early morning warm up ride was now a huge thing for me. I still struggle with fatigue and muscle/tissue craziness. But I was going with Chris and V if I had to ride as a second pillion on that SV650!

When they returned from dinner, we talked some more and I was very glad to hear that they enjoyed their meal at Chicago Diner. V had done her research well and picked a favorite here. Chicagoans are very serious about cuisine. If you come here, you can't leave without having a scrumptious meal or two. It's a city ordinance that every resident has vowed to enforce.

Chris and V preferred a leisurely start the next day, thus forcing me to contain my enthusiasm a bit. I woke up feeling ready but it would be my first longish outing since July when I ventured to Milwaukee BMW for service. It took me a few days to recuperate from that. Since then, my riding has been restricted to short, occasional rides to the doctor's office, my suburban home and to the apartment in the city. Not much fun but better than nothing.

I don't recall the time we left the apartment but I know the sky was a gorgeous blue with puffs of clouds here and there to create excellent photos. The temps were in the low 80s, if my memory is correct. I remember not caring about the details. I wanted only to get on the road and follow the lake and steal glances whenever the traffic allowed. The traffic was heavier than normal but not for this time of day. Our first stop was a short distance from downtown to get a good picture of Chicago's skyline we headed south a short distance on LSD.

The spot I thought would be good turned out to be already crowded with cars. We headed back north near the Museum Campus and parked at the Adler Planetarium. It's a spot I like to take people because it's just gorgeous--even when the weather is crapola, the pictures are always cool.

Chris took some great pics from the Adler location, which you can see on his blog, Everyday Riding or on his Flickr photostream. I don't recall him taking that many pictures but he was clearly busy shutter tripping and riding! I've never seen myself riding on LSD (aka Lake Shore Drive) until viewing his images. I loved them, mostly because the lake was always in view. Riding along LSD is one of my favorite outings. Early Sunday morning, as the sunrises, there are few places I love more. I know other places may be more beautiful but it's the familiarity and the fact that I grew up here and have had little or no desire to ever seriously live anywhere else.

We made it to Kenosha in no time, at least for me. I was ecstatic to be on two wheels! I discovered that there is one good thing about riding with someone else, especially if you haven't been riding for a time. You can follow the rider--assuming the person is a fine rider. Chris is definitely a fine, natural rider--I'm not just saying that. Out of five people I've ridden with before, Chris becomes the third with whom I will gladly ride again. Although he's been riding only a few years, you can tell right away that Chris is finely tuned to riding motorcycles, especially sporty types. I have a theory--or perhaps it's just my opinion--such riders have a certain look (it has nothing to do with age, either); they look a lot like long distance bicyclists, motorcycle racers and soccer players. They are fit, lean, and compact. When these types of two wheelers get on their steed, they melt into it, like it's a second skin; they don't ride on the bike, they ride with or in the bike. They just look like they're made for the bike--and there a group of them I know race the SV650. (Note: I'm not dismissing the value or talents of any other riders, I'm just pointing out an observation of a group of riders I've watched in the real and on TV. And I know that not all of them are fine riders).

Following good riding can rub off. Whenever I've ridden with an instructor, I would end the session riding differently, more confidently--no matter how finely tuned I thought I was when we started. This is why I like to start the season with an advanced course and end the season with a track day or some other advance experience. I still think back to this and this. This season will go down with zero classes. I remembered being tired at the end of a great class. But to start one already fatigued, no thank you.

On Chris and V's visit, I admit to feeling a tad rusty and a bit uptight about riding. This time last season I had already amassed thousands of miles on Jesse Owens. I am far from that. But hey, life happens.

As I watched Chris, I could feel myself loosening up and settling in. Riding is a lot like learning a new language. Practice makes improvement. It's also like riding a bicycle; you never completely forget how to ride but you can feel rust setting in after a long absence.

We took Sheridan Road (US Rt 41 North) much of the way. I enjoyed getting off the beaten path a few times. One place I always like stopping by is the Bahai Temple in Wilmette, IL.

If you look real close, you'll see Chris and V peering inside the temple windows (something to do with the witness protection program?--we had that in common too ;-)). Before we reached the Wisconsin Motorcycle Museum, we stopped in a parking lot and Chris took me up on my offer for him to ride Jesse Owens.

I never get to see my bike zipping by. I wanted his opinion of Jesse Owens and I really wanted to see my bike in motion. Chris spent a few minutes getting acquainted with Jesse, rode around in circles a few times, and off he went!

V and I prepared our cameras and waited for him to re-appear. He didn't disappoint. He zoomed by several times. He looked maaavalous!

My bike looked great--if I say so myself! Chris was dressed perfectly for it. His black and grey gear made him look like a slick BMW ad for the F800ST. It was pure excitement to see him flying by. I shared some pics with him, but many I have selfishly kept to myself. This was one of the highlights for me. We soon left the lot and headed to the museum only to find it CLOSED! Bummer!

We peeked in the windows and stood around talking. We were not the only people bummed by the closure as others drove up and sighed their disappointment.

We said our good-byes--me very reluctantly. (Chris, I hadn't forgotten my water bottle after all. I found it buried in my backpack). But I did want them to get to the HD Museum and on to Madison. I learned that they exercised a more leisurely option and hung around the lake before heading to Madison, WI.

I'd reached a milestone. Upon arriving in Kenosha I felt really strong. I had planned to stop at the Botanic Garden in IL on my way back but after having lunch I figured it best to head home. I did take a brief side trip to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. They had already closed for the day. I still felt pretty good but resisted the temptation to take any additional side trips. That's the challenge when I'm feeling good, I then try to resume my former life only to learn the next day that I've over done it. Life sure is a teacher! I headed home but took the long way 'round.

The test would come the following day. I woke up anticipating familiar pain. I felt none. Well, I felt a little bit but it was more annoying than anything. I waited until late morning. No increase. By late afternoon I had left on two wheels. I clocked in only about 70 miles but didn't feel much worse--and felt (mood wise) a whole lot better! My Minnesota visitors helped to jump start my riding, which coincided with me embarking on a path of feeling better more often. I had a blast riding with Chris and V, sort of like a mini refresher following him. It was a wonderful weekend meeting new/old friends, talking, riding, doing some healing too.

Chris and Vicki, thanks for stopping by!

Upcoming post: How I averted the jaws of death with a little help from some very cool firemen

Tuesday, August 24

I'm back...fingers crossed!

I'm inspired to write this blog entry because I've been feeling so much better lately. Additionally, I've heard from some of you and I'm particularly touched by your concerns. Some people lament that we, as a society, have lost our “sense of community,” that people are too plugged in to technology and not tuned in enough to “traditional” ways of caring about each other. I reject this outright; nothing is ever so black and white. Thanks to everyone who has reached out or just thought about me these last few months. I am left with a strong feeling of community with my fellow moto-bloggers.

I'm sorry that I've been invisible. I wouldn't wish my health challenges on anyone! For too long, I've had neither the energy nor desire to read moto blogs much less post on my own. Every time I step outside a motorcycle appears out of nowhere and zips by me as if mocking my pedestrian mode of transportation. And occasionally, it's all made be whiny, pouty and really uninterested in forcing my foggy brain—thanks to some crazy prescribed drugs—to focus on anything requiring attention. Trying to live vicariously through others' adventures was not helping. So, I apologize for neglecting the pleasure I usually experience from reading your blogs—and the fun I get from sharing my journeys (which have been few and far between). So I've laid low and tried to focus on reclaiming my former self.

What's up with me, you've asked? I have a nasty auto immune disease of the connective tissues that has brought with it a rather persistent, chronic fatigue and more than its share of itchy, hideous hives. My immune system treats my muscles and tissue cells as enemy invaders and wants to destroy both. At one point, the least bit of physical exertion was followed by what I can only describe as an acute case of lactic acid burn in every fiber of my being. For reasons unclear to me, I continue to experience incredible muscle/tissue fires inside. After a lively 5 mile walk, which used to be a skip in the park, I now (more often than not) feel a burning sensation under my skin. I will spare you the details but after more than a year of trying to get a doctor to listen to me and not dismiss this as “all in my head,” I finally have received a diagnosis that makes sense. Not good news in the end, but what a relief to know what I'm dealing with.

I've had to consume some awful drugs that have compromised me cognitively and erased my energy and only slightly eased the pain, which always leaves me asking, “What is the point?”

Through trial and error, I've learned what drug to cut out—most of the prescribed stuff—and I've started to feel considerable better—at least I have my mind back, which I know might be debatable. Still...

Currently, I'm feeling as if I'm in a healing phase (a remission of sorts). I've had a few weeks of feeling well enough to get through an entire day without several naps. Knocking on wood. Photo therapy has done wonders. I felt so well that on a Friday in July I took a ride to Milwaukee's BMW for a big, overdue service on the ST.

Other than occasionally running errands, this would be my first trip since May, when I ventured to Michigan to do some underground railroad hunting. I left for WI at 7am and already the air was hot and humid underneath an overcast sky. Milwaukee is an easy trip of about 100 miles; I arrived a few minutes before the shop opened at 10am. In the past, Dave had volunteered to ride my bike up there for me; while I appreciated his offer I could think of only a one word response: NEVER! I rested two whole days to make the trip. By the time I pulled into the large lot, I felt like a privileged six year old on Christmas morning. Three guys were waiting outside for the head guy to open the place; they watched me as I did a U-turn. Thankfully, my time off the bike, did not show. Within ten minutes my bike was checked in. I headed off to a coffee shop to get some reading and writing done. I felt tired but in a good way. Fortunately, I would have seven and a half hours to rest up before the return trip.

Throughout the day, the sky threatened rain and eventually the rain came in buckets. Didn't matter to me as the rain gear was packed. By the time I took to the rode, the rain had dwindled to a trickle—not even worth pulling out the rain gear. The return journey took 1.5 hours longer than it took to get to Milwaukee. The return dished up everything that makes riding fun and challenging. My clutch hand ached from constant use in stop and go traffic. Friday evening traffic from Milwaukee into Chicago is always an endurance test. Rarely, during the last fifty miles did the bike move beyond third gear, which actually was good as the big service on the bike made the brakes so precise that I cherished the time needed to get accustomed to the new feel. I pulled into the garage just before 9:00pm, just before the night turned the sky black. The true test would come the next day. And, it came with a vengeance that was both excruciating and instructive. I couldn't walk straight. My thighs and the muscles in my legs were aching (I would rather give birth than to feel as I did). t took two days for my muscles/tissues to cease the fire within. Still, my progress could be overlooked if I just focused on the pain that had me frantically searching my cabinets for the very drugs I had sworn off.

But here's the big lesson: It took two days to recuperate from the Milwaukee 200+ miles trip compared to the two weeks it took me to get over the 300+ miles Michigan trip I took the Saturday over the Memorial Day holiday. I'd say this is tangible evidence of progress. Why my immune system throws off histamines and sends my body into hyper drive is beyond me. Fortunately, I now have some astute docs and together we are working on solving the mystery.

This down time has been good in many ways. First, I quit my research job that would try the patience of Biblical Job. I miss ONLY the money. The number of people I miss I can count on one hand with several fingers left over. It's been a good decision that has eliminated a boat load of stress. Trying to work in that environment was like trying to fit a big triangle into a small round space. This down time is also great for unlimited reading, that is, when the drug-induced brain fog has lifted. When clear of mind, I've done some serious thinking about all the things I've yet to do in this lifetime. One major decision I've made is an unequivocal recommitment to finishing an on and off again book I've been doodling on the life and times of Bessie B. Stringfield. I've accomplished more in the last month than I have in the last seven! I'm presenting a paper on Stringfield in November to the Social Science History Association; planning a trip (via plane, unfortunately) to Florida, where she lived; and, submitting a book proposal soon. The unanticipated time off has had some nice breakthroughs.

While I don't want to announce a full return to anything just yet, (since I still can't predict with any level of accuracy when and why these annoying “flare-ups” occur), I feel, at the moment that I'm on a healing path. I plan to show up here more often. Even some recent news that I would undergo a minor surgery procedure hasn't dampened my optimism. I had that procedure and learned that I do not need the more invasive surgery. Whew!

On a recent short ride to the grocery store, I had a distinct feeling of Que sera, sera (Whatever will be, will be).

So here's to a heartfelt thanks to everyone for your patience and concern. I am looking forward to catching up with you all soon.

I had a huge boost in energy this past weekend when I met up with the Chris and his lovely wife, whom I'll refer to as "Vee" —more about that fun soon.